It feels like before every mission trip, even though we do it anyway, we as missionaries are told to hold no expectations toward the upcoming trip. Expectations on a mission trip are like jaywalking: we’re not supposed to do it, but do it anyway, rather than wait for God’s light to turn green. Even Fr. Jacob admitted during the trip that while had been coaching us to let go of our expectations, he too was harboring expectations of his own, an example of how we all struggle with this.
I learned that all of us as missionaries, at some point in our experience, make the mistake of “jaywalking.” We rush across the street, just like we may rush our service, and the result is that we limit ourselves, and our opportunity to see God’s grace. Too often, I found myself saying, “okay, there’s nothing left to see, it’s time to go. On to the next street. There is nothing here.”
When I use this analogy, I’m thinking of one particular evening in our trip. This situation is far more vivid in my memory than the others, not for lack of amazing experiences, but because I think it is a great example how our expectations can limit our opportunities to see God.
Toward the end of our trip, we spent a few nights in the heart of Calabar, Nigeria, which we came to learn is an area with a well-established night life. Our priest asked the group if we would be willing to attend a prayer walk for the neighborhood, but if we were not comfortable, that we could choose to stay back and pray for the group. It’s just after 10PM, it’s rainy season, a storm is brewing outside as we speak, and I’m in a 3rd world country where, in my mind, anything can happen. To this day, I don’t know if I was alone in those feelings, because everyone elected to go. We had the option to stay back, but being that no one else chose to stay, I wouldn’t allow myself to either. Still, I didn’t see what good we could possibly do at night, on a weekend, when we would be walking into a sea of drunk people who probably don’t want to hear from a group of missionaries. I thought to myself—God did not equip me for this.
When our group first arrived in Nigeria, it was the beginning of rainy season. As we had experienced it to that point, it had been excruciatingly long droughts of humidity, followed by brief, but ferocious rain storms. To the surprise of no one there, it began pouring the moment we stepped out of the gate of the state house, and already, I was second guessing our mission. As we made our way around the block, the storm persisted. We kept trucking along anyway. After only 10 minutes of walking, we could not have been more than ½ mile from the state house, and we found ourselves in a very dimly lit road with a bar, and a hoard of drunk night-goers.
To my surprise, there were those who were happy to engage us, and out of that crowd emerged a handful of people who chose to come back to the state house with us. As we shared our time in prayer and reflection, we came to know these individuals and the dreams they had set for themselves. There was one individual, for example, who had the dream of opening a small grocery in the local marketplace. We were able to help this individual meet the needs to accomplish that goal, and we were able to help her rekindle her relationship with Christ. I still believe, as strong as her relationship is with God, I believe that the true blessing was that our group was allowed to meet this person, experience her story, and witness God’s work through her resilience.
The application I take from this experience is to never set limits on God’s work, and how I can serve him. I have made it my personal priority to simply open myself up, and ask Him, “how are you willing to let me see you today.”
My trip to Nigeria was my first-ever mission trip, and I'm happy and grateful for the whole experience. Like many who go on their first mission trip, I had no idea what to expect, which had some advantages given that Fr. Jacob kept telling us to have no expectations. I didn’t even know if we would be sleeping in a house that was built in a week out of logs and mud--which we didn’t!
Coming in without expectations allowed me to appreciate each unique experience for the first time. Although, the first few days took some getting used to, I slowly became more and more comfortable with the ambiguity. One thing that stood out to me was how happy many of the villagers, especially the children, were, even though they had very little reason to be when measured with our standards. It was evident that the natives of Calabar view life different and value things differently than we do. After each day of missionary work, we would return to the compound around 5:00pm and all the kids at the church doors would come and greet and hug us. For reasons that still don’t completely make sense to me, they were just so happy to see us. Witnessing happiness that you cannot explain really is a wonderful experience.
Something that I really liked about the trip was that it forced me out my comfort zone. Going around to locals and talking to them about the church and bible isn’t something I'm accustomed to, or talking to large groups for that matter. The mission trip challenged me to do something new, and I'm happy I got to experience it because I wouldn’t have done it on my own.
Although I don’t have any big messages or takeaways to share, there are many small things that stood out to me that can form at least one overall message. I will leave you with one: You don’t need a major reason to be happy, or even a small one at that; just knowing that God is with you is enough. Taking note of the smallest miracles in your life can remind you of that.
The first thing I learned was how to appreciate the very little things that we usually take as for granted. By just looking at other people’s lives, how hard it is, how poor they are, and still being thankful, able to smile, and very generous, made me realize how spoiled, ungrateful and “poor” I am.
Being disconnected from family, friends, work, social media and all kinds of distractions, in combination with the very simple life we got to live there, and facing different hardships everyday made it easier to see Christ working even in the very small things. Many times we felt the devil’s fight against us.
Through prayer we experienced one of two things: Either God would work so quickly in a way that we could hardly describe or nothing would happen and we would get frustrated until we realized that God was using the delay and the situation to finish some other work that was beyond our realization or planning.
The BIG Witness:
I think the most impactful experiences i've ever had was watching the story of the Lost Sheep “live”. On our last day in Consico, a village that we stayed in for a week and a half, we were scheduled for a school visit. We got ready with all the gifts and materials for the lessons and were heading there to find out that the school went on strike and there were no kids to be served. We ended up having nothing to do in Consico, so we felt this was God's voice telling us to go to Calabar, which we were planning on going to in a few days.
A few hours after we reached Calabar, we went out at night looking for people to preach His word to, and found HER and some other girls. We invited about five of them to church and SHE was the most hesitant to come with us. After many trials, and being among the group of the other girls, SHE finally came. God sent us to Calabar early, after what seemed like a failure in Consico, just for HER. The whole night was about HER. I believe all the talks and prayers were personally customized for HER. He touched HER heart and gave HER security in His house among HER new family. All that was just for HER; leaving everything and everybody else to find HER and to bring back His Lost Sheep.
*A more detailed description about this incredible encounter will be published soon!*
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
Being a Christian is simply being Christ-like. Forgetting about ourselves, serving and valuing others, delivering His love, hope and comfort to people. Submitting to His will so that He delivers His word through us to who needs it whenever they are ready to hear it.
Our time spent serving in Nigeria was nothing less than eye-opening. I was amazed at how the people we encountered could see God acting in their lives every day. Although they have very little, they seem to be far happier than many of us are even on a good day.
Despite being blessed with so much, we are always seeking more, never to be satisfied, and we wonder how to find true happiness. It showed me how much we take our privilege for granted. If one day, our internet access gives out, we become frustrated as if the world is ending, while in Nigeria, and in many other parts of the world, people wonder where their next meal will come, and yet they are able to trust in the Lord to fill them with joy. Sometimes it takes separation from our comfort zone--when we are unable to be self-sufficient—in order to see God’s grace.
Joy in Simplicity
There was one day where we were going to spend some time with the kids, so we decided to surprise them with balloons. All of us blew up about 100 balloons and then began to take them outside. We watched as all the kids instantly became overjoyed by the surprise, their faces lighting up—even the adults were joyful at the sight. It was the perfect example of joy in simplicity.
“That’s why I praise Him in the morning; that’s why I praise Him in the noontime; that’s why I praise Him in the evening; that’s why I praise Him all the time.”
As my second trip to Nigeria, I came in with expectations—Although I knew that I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help myself. I reflected on how transformational my first Nigeria trip was (in 2014), and how I kept repeating that I left my heart behind, and needed to go back. But as always, God had a different plan…
From the time we arrived in Nigeria, we saw that things were different. The evil one had a stronghold that was ready for battle, but what he didn’t know is that those with us were more than those against us. Nonetheless, it was a furious battle. The evil one attacked us with roadblocks, illnesses, and difficulties.
We armed ourselves with morning quiet times (glorious pep talks), continuous prayers and praises, delving into our bible studies, and fiery prayer meetings. We were armed with His presence, molded by His hands, and led by His Spirit. But greatest of all, He allowed us to share in the glory of His sufferings, so that we could be glorified with His resurrection, and be filled by His Holy Spirit. Each day was a battle, full of His victory and miracles.
Having too many miracles to share, I want to focus on only one that showed how graceful He is to us. How His presence is with us, how powerful prayers are, able to make miracles.
As always, we tried to prepare our services for the day, asking Him to open doors for us. But this day was a bit different, because we were leaving the villages and heading to the city to serve at the University of Calabar. There was a bit of hesitation in the air, illness already has one of us in bed all day, a couple of us were not feel very well, we were unsure of how transportation would work, and most importantly, we didn’t have any of the required documents to get into the university.
We had our quiet time, prayers, picked out our prayer warriors for the day, packed different flyers to handout, and then departed to the University of Calabar. Upon out arrival, we were stopped by security officers who explained that we need an approved letter to enter. While they explained the process to get this letter, we all prayed for God to work and open doors for us. After much discussion, they reject us from entering, and were left at the gate to figure out where to go next and how to get the letter—despair was fast approaching.
While looking around and seeing how many people were going in and coming out of this gate, I reach into my pocket and found a few of the flyers. This was the moment of truth for me. Either hand those flyers out, or stand there until something else happens. I started thinking about how judged I would be if I stood outside a university back home and passed out Jesus flyers. I took a deep breath and kept silently praying “God, please work through Your Spirit.”
Cast the Net on the Right Side (John 21:6)
I grabbed a handful of flyers and started passing them out to people walking in and out telling them “Jesus loves you.” I made it halfway through my stack of flyers without anyone making eye contact with me. A second missionary joined me and we worked together. Disappointment was surely around the corner—this was a bad idea.
My prayer “God please work through Your Spirit” was now being said stronger than ever. Then finally, He smiled down on us through a young man who looked at me and asked “What are you doing here?” The small, budding discussion with him gathered a few people around us. Then somehow, within seconds our entire group was flooded by hundreds of people asking questions and seeking the Truth.
I had no idea where all these people came from. We couldn’t keep up with the constant flow of people. I took a few seconds to look around and couldn’t help but picture Peter when he went fishing all night, catching nothing, then Jesus telling Him to cast his net on the right side, and catching so many fish that they needed help to gather the fish because the boat began to sink.
Then I recalled… we were discussing that story the night before. I cracked a smile, turned around, and handed out a flyer. “Good morning, sir! Jesus loves you!”
We are many voices, united by the same Spirit, driven to Serve Apostolic Love and Testimony.